A MUSIC BEHIND THE WALL

VOL. II, SELECTED STORIES

A follow-up collection (after 1994’s Vol. I) of deliciously eerie, enigmatic, and resonant symbolic fictions by the recently deceased Italian author (The Iguana, 1984). Ortese’s stories, written over more than a half-century of courageously sustained creative effort, are deftly declarative explorations of their author’s own inquiring sensibility, packed with autobiographical details and observations and explicitly discursive reportage. In them, the author frequently presents herself as the writer dreaming imaginative responses to crises (personal and global alike) that threaten the familial and aesthetic values she cherishes. —Folletto in Genoa,— for example, presents a family transfigured by madness as a grotesque metaphor for —the unification of Italy.— In “Redskin,” an introspective girl contrives a fabulistic escape from the looming certainty of war and a beloved brother’s death in battle. “Fantasies” is an involuted tale that reveals, in effect, how it was conceived and written; and in “Nebel (A Lost Story),” Ortese confides to us, in medias res, her uncertainty about how to develop her story. Her insistent lushness and lyricism (beautifully served by Martin’s graceful translation) is memorably displayed in a sharply detailed “tour” of Rome’s Via Floria (“The Great A Street”), and particularly in a celebratory portrayal of the rich variety of a writer’s imagination (“The Villa”). And in the most Kafkaesque story here, “Slanting Eyes,” a young girl’s —worship— of her remote father is expanded into a darkly comic mock-biblical fantasy. Ortese is often disarmingly funny (“on the subject of mountains, I have to say that here there were no mountains”), and there’s something very attractive in her open espousal of the pleasure and healing power inherent in literary artifice (a concluding autobiographical essay, “Where Time is Another,” ruminates engagingly on her passion for “self-expression” among a family largely indifferent to it, and as a citizen of a country that has suppressed it). Enchanting stuff, from a unique writer. If you like Borges, you’ll like Ortese.

Pub Date: May 29, 1998

ISBN: 0-929701-56-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1998

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS

STORIES

A gathering of short stories by an ascended master of the form.

Best known for mega-bestselling horror yarns, King (Finders Keepers, 2015, etc.) has been writing short stories for a very long time, moving among genres and honing his craft. This gathering of 20 stories, about half previously published and half new, speaks to King’s considerable abilities as a writer of genre fiction who manages to expand and improve the genre as he works; certainly no one has invested ordinary reality and ordinary objects with as much creepiness as King, mostly things that move (cars, kid’s scooters, Ferris wheels). Some stories would not have been out of place in the pulp magazines of the 1940s and ’50s, with allowances for modern references (“Somewhere far off, a helicopter beats at the sky over the Gulf. The DEA looking for drug runners, the Judge supposes”). Pulpy though some stories are, the published pieces have noble pedigrees, having appeared in places such as Granta and The New Yorker. Many inhabit the same literary universe as Raymond Carver, whom King even name-checks in an extraordinarily clever tale of the multiple realities hidden in a simple Kindle device: “What else is there by Raymond Carver in the worlds of Ur? Is there one—or a dozen, or a thousand—where he quit smoking, lived to be 70, and wrote another half a dozen books?” Like Carver, King often populates his stories with blue-collar people who drink too much, worry about money, and mistrust everything and everyone: “Every time you see bright stuff, somebody turns on the rain machine. The bright stuff is never colorfast.” Best of all, lifting the curtain, King prefaces the stories with notes about how they came about (“This one had to be told, because I knew exactly what kind of language I wanted to use”). Those notes alone make this a must for aspiring writers.

Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1167-9

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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